Shooting Star!

Small time crook Joey Slick gets a ticket to the big league when he stumbles across a malfunctioning Megatron, in this homage to the gangster movie genre.

The Autobots have been wracking-up casualties of late, thanks to their Dinobot Hunt going awry, and the preview for Shooting Star – by Bob Budiansky and the US team, and published in the UK in March 1986 – suggests things are about to get a lot worse with the return of one of the most powerful Decepticons of all, Megatron!

Apart from a tiny mention of Ratchet in one panel, this is the only Marvel US Transformers story not to feature an Autobot (or any other Transformer). It takes a big beast to carry the title single handed and they don’t come much bigger than Megatron.

We last saw him in the 1985 story Repeat Performance, disappearing over a cliff following his showdown with Ratchet and the Dinobots. Those events occurred just five monthly comics previous for US readers, but in the UK 22 weekly issues have passed, and it feels like Megatron has been away longer and therefore his return is more of a big deal.

The story begins with Joey Slick legging it through a half-dried up stream as two sunglasses-and-suit-wearing guys, looking every inch the gangsters they are, take pot shots at him (missing naturally, this being a kid’s comic). They are henchmen for a local kingpin called Jake Lomax – who Joey unwisely ripped off. He finds a Walther P-38 in the water – the familiar alt-mode of Megatron – and attempts to shoot his pursuers. Nothing happens, that is until the two guys goad the gun to fire at them and it promptly unleashes a bolt of energy!

Joey retreats to a barn and asks to know what the gun is. It promptly transforms and enlarges into the ex-Decepticon leader, in robot form. Joey describes Megatron as his “weird angel” which is not far off the mark as things turn out. The cliff fall had disconnected Megatron’s higher brain circuits and he can no longer think for himself, only follow orders!

This makes for an intriguing set-up – a human in control of a Transformer (and it is much more entertainingly executed than The Icarus Factor which explored the same theme) but it’s also a really major weakness if a jolt to the head can make the Decepticon leader a compliant automaton. It’s a wonder the Autobots have never tried to bring about this situation and enlist Megatron’s help on their side.

The other slightly daft thing is that the two guys Megatron blasted turn up dishevelled but very much alive, to report their failure to Lomax. They really should have been incinerated, but the fact that everyone makes it out of the story alive tells you that Budiansky is looking to keep things light-hearted and entertaining, and not push grisly deaths at the young readers. The UK comic is more daring in this regard and is often credited with treating its readers more like grown-ups. Personally, I never minded the light-hearted, slightly tongue in cheek style of Budiansky.

If Joey Slick, with his wide collars and long face, brings to mind Al Pacino in Scarface then Lomax bears a passing resemblance to the moustache and medallion-wearing Frank Lopez of the same film. He’s got a nice mansion in Oregon complete with a private pool and young bikini wearing girlfriend at his side. But he’s not happy at Joey making a fool of him and sends four heavies to go and finish the job.

Joey’s neighbourhood is considerably less affluent, if richer in sincerity. He receives many kind comments and offers of soup and fruits from the locals who all know him. He also joins in a football game with street kids. It’s apparent that he’s not a bad guy but has lost his way and got in with a bad crowd in his desire to stop being a “loser”. Seeing cars outside that are too classy for the neighbour, and hearing footsteps on the stairs he skips out the window and up the fire escape, on to the roof.

Megatron saves Joey’s bacon by blasting a huge water tank and knocking all four mobsters unconscious! Taking to the road, he stops at a motel but is a couple of dollars short on the bill. Incidentally the headline in the newspaper being read by the unsympathetic hotel owner is ‘Robots Leave Plane Plant’ alluding the Decepticons’ recent abandonment of the Blackrock aerospace plant following the demise of Shockwave and the human slave revolt. The obvious course of action for a petty crook is to rob the local convenience store, which nets him cash but brings the police after him. However, a blast from Megatron stops them.

Just to mention, there’s an odd printing fault in issue #51 which Robo Capers is missing the black lines, consequently there are no words and its impossible to read. The rest of the page is fine. So bizarre. The comic launches Robotix in the back-up strip, which feels like an early forerunner of the Headmasters and Targetmasters concept, and the next week section trails three weeks of free gifts – starting with a free Transformers sticker album from panini, followed by free stickers and, in issue #54, a pull out poster of the new combiner teams. Heady days!

Part two of the of story sees Joey taking out a bridge and causing more police cars to crash. Over the next few weeks he creates a one-man crime wave using Megatron’s amazing power and is soon making the headlines. Megatron never misses a shot as bank after bank is robbed, bringing Joey wealth, women and power! After one such robbery he is confronted by the army itself – but walks away unscathed leaving them in ruins.

He’s soon living in a luxury penthouse apartment with his own entourage. However, he feels like they are using him as a wallet and Megatron is the only one he can really trust (and he’s “as brainless as a beer can”, which is a great line). The floor must be incredibly strong for it to take Megatron’s weight!

Joey goes back to his old neighbourhood, finding the fruit stall guy is now terrified of him and the kids he played ball with now want to see his ‘super gun’ and think robbing banks are life goals to aspire to. Joey starts to realise that his new life is not all its cracked up to be, and for reason concludes that having it out with Lomax is the way to put his life in order.

He rings the buzzer at the gates of the Lomax compound and is invited in.  Making short work of the welcoming committee, Joey puts holes all over the mansion before Lomax surrenders. He tosses Megatron to the ground before knocking Lomax over with one punch, showering him with the money he originally owed – plus interest.

Joey turns around to see Megatron in robot mode, the heavy fall had reconnected his brain functions. Megatron prepares to destroy this impudent human and Joey agrees that it’s no more than he deserves. However, Megatron respects his audacity and decides to spare him. As Megatron walks off with a war to win, the police arrive to pick up the not so super criminal. We never see Joey Slick again, but we can safely assume he does a long stretch behind bars, hopefully turning his life around in the end. Who would have thought Megatron capable of showing mercy, and to a ‘lower lifeform’ of all people?!

Final thoughts. It turns out that all Joey owed Lomax was $600, which hardly seems worth him getting so worked up! This story is also notable for it being artist Don Perlin’s debut Transformers story. He would draw a creditable 18 regular issues of Transformers as well as all three instalments of the Transformers the Movie comic adaptation.

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